Criteria for an Emancipation Ruling

Emancipation is the court process through which a minor becomes a legal adult responsible for his or her own care. 

A minor has to meet certain requirements for the court to grant them emancipation. After these requirements are met, the judge considers the "best interests" of the child. This best interest concept is similar to the best interests considered in child custody cases.

The criteria for an emancipation ruling are discussed below.

Preliminary Requirements for an Emancipation Proceeding

First, the child must meet the minimum age at which the state emancipation law allows children to be emancipated. For example, the child must be at least 14 in California, 16 in Illinois, and 18 in Alabama where the age of majority is 19. Court proceedings, including emancipation, can be quite slow, so if you're already only a few months from the age of majority, it may be better to just wait until you are of age.

Also, the parents usually must be notified of the emancipation proceeding. Parents may object to the proceeding. In Illinois, if the minor objects to an emancipation proceeding, it ends the case without emancipation, whereas in Michigan a parent's objection will only result in the court possibly dismissing the matter if that parent does not contribute financially.

Best Interests of the Child

Before issuing an emancipation ruling, the court will decide what's in the minor's best interests. While these criteria vary by state, common factors include:

  • Financial Support of the Minor: An important criterion of emancipation is how the minor is able to support themselves financially, either currently or in the future without receiving income from illegal activities or welfare.
  • Where the minor is living: The court will consider if the minor is currently living apart from their parents or has made adequate arrangements for future housing if granted emancipation.
  • Decision Making: The judge will want to know if the minor can adequately make decisions for themselves and may seek evidence from the minor demonstrating good decision-making skills.
  • Maturity: The petitioning minor is often required to prove they have sufficient maturity to function as an adult.
  • Education Whether the minor is attending school or has already received a diploma may be considered and it may also impact their financial self-sufficiency.
  • Pregnancy: If a pregnant girl is seeking emancipation, factors such as how she plans to care for herself and the baby and whether she plans to wed the father (which would result in automatic emancipation) will also be considered by the court.
  • Abuse from the Minor's Parents: Generally, the court will also consider the parents' behavior that resulted in the minor seeking emancipation, such as if the child experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse at the hands of the parents who have a legal obligation to care for the child.

Additional Considerations for Emancipation Rulings

State laws may require additional information. For example, emancipation petitions in Georgia must include the names of adults who know about the minor's circumstances and believe under these circumstances that emancipation is in the best interest of the petitioner. These individuals may be doctors, nurses, psychologists, counselors, social workers, therapists, school administrators, teachers, members of the clergy (pastors, for example), police officers, or attorneys.

If there's no state law specifically addressing emancipation procedures, then common law or cases previously decided on the issue of emancipation will determine what the child must do or prove in order to be emancipated.

Have Questions About an Emancipation Ruling? An Attorney Can Help

Emancipation is an important process that will have a significant impact on your life. But are you ready for the process and what will follow? There's no reason to go through this alone. Instead, an experienced family law attorney can help advise you about your rights during the process and can also be your advocate in court.

Find a family law attorney licensed to practice in your area today.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Minor children can go through the court process without parental consent
  • You may need legal help to understand local requirements and emancipation procedures
  • An attorney or a local legal aid office can provide more specific guidance 

Get tailored advice about seeking emancipation and ask a lawyer questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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